By 1962, Hammer star Peter Cushing, for fear of being typecast as a horror actor, was ready to tackle a non-horror role, and ironically it was Hammer that provided him with the perfect opportunity. Having been a big fan of Russell Thorndike’s popular series of Dr. Syn adventure novels, Cushing was eager to play the notorious pirate-turned-parson, when Hammer acquired the rights to remake Roy William Neill’s Doctor Syn (1937). The resulting film, Captain Clegg (1962) now makes its blu-ray debut in Germany, courtesy of Anolis Entertainment, restored from an HD master provided by Universal Pictures.
Hammer’s Captain Clegg (1962) is a colorful departure from the company’s tried and true Gothic horror formula into high adventure, mystery, pirates, scarecrows, and ghostly phantoms that haunt the marshes of a small English village—you can’t expect Hammer to abandon all its tropes!
The story centers around a local village parson who runs a smuggling ring, in opposition to England’s cruel taxation laws, in order to help the beleaguered townsfolk. When the King’s Revenue Men arrive to investigate they uncover some startling facts, not just about many of the villagers, but about their parson, Rev. Dr. Blyss, who may be hiding a terrible past.
Peter Cushing is superb as the fearless Blyss/Clegg, who thwarts the King’s harsh laws for the sake of his small community. His tight-strung energy and cool authority are perfect for conveying the dual personalities of this character. In many ways, Captain Glegg is a logical extension of Cushing’s Frankenstein and Van Helsing.
The theme of an authority figure from outside entering a closed community to investigate possible wrongdoings is more famously explored in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), and there are certainly similarities between the two films. Like Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man, Captain Collier (Patrick Allen), the leader of the revenue men, is a paradoxical protagonist. Carrying the King’s authority, he is righteous, intolerant, and demanding—almost more a villain than a protagonist. Yet, he falls comfortably in line with many similar Churchillian, no-nonsense protagonists in British films of the period, including Prof. Quatermass, Father Sandor in Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Capt. Lansen in The Lost Continent, Dr. Pritchard in Hands of the Ripper, etc. The contrast between Collier’s bulldozer-like investigative tactics and the villagers’ good-humored methods of thwarting them makes for some enjoyable jousting.
In principle, this kind of film needs a big-budget Hollywood production to make it really leap off the screen. Hammer does their customary best to disguise the film’s low budget and, most of the time, they succeed to a surprising degree. But in certain instances, such as the less than convincing day for night photography, or the distinctly meager quota of villagers living in the town, the low budget makes itself felt.
Universal Pictures and Anolis Entertainment have done a good job restoring this relatively minor catalog title. On the Anolis release, the frame is matted to 1.79:1, instead of Final Cut’s and Universal’s 2.00:1, so there is more information at the top and bottom. The problem with the Final Cut (UK) release is that it was mastered in 1080/50i instead of 1080p, which creates a very slight speed-up which changes the pitch of the actors’ voices and the music. This is especially noticeable with Peter Cushing’s distinctive timbre. They also restored the main title in the opening credits from “Night Creatures” to “Captain Clegg,” but the font used is less than convincing. Film grain looked a bit over-sharpened as well. No such problems exist in either the Universal (US) release, or the new Anolis (German) release. The image retains its original film grain, which has not been coarsened by any edge sharpening, and the color is rich and satisfying. Some small age-related imperfections pop up here and there, such as specs, but they do not distract, and actually add a realistic impression of watching real film. On all three releases, certain shots show a kind of ghosting effect, where a light edge meets a dark background. It’s a bit distracting, but not too grievous.
For this blu-ray release we are given a standard mono 2.0 track in both English and German, which does the job admirably. Don Banks’ powerful music comes through with sufficient resonance and depth. Final Cut’s audio fares worse than the other two releases, probably owing to the slight speed-up of the 1080/50i mastering.
The extra features is where Anolis Entertainment usually takes down the competition, and this release is no exception. First up is a seven-minute video, written and hosted by Hammer-aficionado, Wayne Kinsey, in which he takes us on a tour of George Mossman’s collection of horse-drawn carriages, many of which appeared in various Hammer films. Next, we have Making of Captain Clegg, a 30-minute documentary on the making of the film. Written by Wayne Kinsey, and narrated by veteran Hammer actor, John Carson, the documentary goes deep into the history of the film’s origins and production. This is a Final Cut Entertainment production and has been ported over from their release. It’s a very informative doc and enjoyable to watch, but ideally would have benefited from a few more well-chosen experts to present their points of view. There is also an audio commentary track by film historians Dr. Rolf Giessen and Uwe Sommerlad, but it’s in German only. I’ve heard these two gents in conversation in English, and they always have interesting things to say, so I wish they would do more of that, or at least in German with English subtitles. Also included are two trailers (American and German; both in HD), traversals through the German and British press books, and an image gallery.
For Hammer fans, Captain Clegg is self-recommending, and is one of the most purely enjoyable of Hammer’s non-monster titles. On purely technical grounds, until someone creates a better HD master, both the Anolis and Universal releases are the best currently before us, with Anolis just edging out Universal in the better framing. Note that the Universal release is only available in a box set with other Hammer titles, and has no extra features. Highly recommended.